It was literally one of the best moments of my life. I'm standing in the dark backstage at the dress rehearsal, waiting for my own number. P. is waiting outside with a friend, having already ran through her own routines.
One of my fellow dancers turns to me and says "I saw your girl running through her numbers - she did so well!" And then I melted.
This was the deal: P. didn't have to dance. All she had to do was go out on stage with her class and not cry. Not that she was necessarily in danger of a breakdown, but she's a timid little thing and you never know. The reward (read, bribe) for making it through the dress rehearsal was a trip to one of our local ice cream stands. The reward for making it through both the dress rehearsal and the recital itself was a trip to the toy store.
Now I want you to know that I would not have forced P. to dance in the show if she truly didn't want to. Turns out, I am not a dance mom. I know this because she balked at being a part of the big group number and I didn't push it. But she was on the fence when it came to the recital itself, so I incentivized it. Transformed something unfamiliar and a little weird into something positive.
I also did one of the smartest things I have probably ever done in a situation like this and hustled her into the high school to see the stage the day before the dress rehearsal. Four-year-olds - at least my four-year-old - can be incredibly averse to novelty, which is less exciting than it is terrifying. A stage? P. had never seen a stage or an auditorium from the performer's side outside of books, so a few minutes before the maintenance staff locked up we scuttled through the empty halls looking for our performance space.
First, she stood on the stage. Then we explored the wings. I showed her how she'd wait with her class and then file out into the center of the stage. I told her she wouldn't really see the audience because they'd be sitting in the dark. I explained that the empty seats would be filled with people. And I tried to think of all the little details that I, having spent years performing, would take for granted so nothing would come as a surprise.
It's likely that I forgot more than I remembered, but it worked. At the dress rehearsal, everything P. saw was something she'd seen before, and then at the show it was as all old hat as anything can be when you've been on the planet for less than half a decade.
And the box of candy helped. I know from experience that it's hard to focus on recital jitters when you're running around like a crazy person stuffing your face with sweets.
At the end of the big recital, P. got her ice cream outing and she got her toy - and this mama got to experience that amazing feeling of having my child join me in doing something I love. Who knows if she'll dance for the rest of her life or she'll want to switch to soccer or singing or art classes after another year or two.
No matter what, though, she and I will always have this one perfect wonderful weekend in our shared history, and you can't beat that!